After the success of Trilogy 2015 which was Cabernet Sauvignon dominant, Warwick Wine Estate’s new cellar master JD Pretorius decided to make Warwick Estate Trilogy 2016 Cabernet Franc dominant, making it one of the very few Bordeaux blends in the Cape to have this style of blend. Geoffrey Dean caught up with Pretorius at the launch of the 2016 to find out the challenges of growing Cab Franc in the Cape, why the blend is as it is and to taste the previous vintages of 2012, 2008, 2005 and 1997 to compare and contrast the new wine.
Seductive red fruit, vibrant acidity and beautifully-integrated powdery tannins form the backbone of Warwick Estate Trilogy 2016, with freshness and a very long finish, writes Dean.
For over three decades since it was first produced in 1986, the Warwick Estate Trilogy has consistently been one of the top Bordeaux blends in the western Cape. What is so notable about its latest release, the 2016, is that, for the first time, Cabernet Franc makes up more than half of the assemblage – 51% – with Cabernet Sauvignon 34% and Merlot 15%.
The result is a stunning wine with a brightness and light-footedness that should appeal to the on-trade when it is released early next year.
Emboldened by the success of the 2015 Trilogy when Cabernet Franc was the majority grape for the first time (41% to Cabernet Sauvignon’s 40%), Warwick Wine Estate has pinned its faith in it in what was a very difficult vintage. For 2016 was a very hot growing season in the middle of a long-term drought. JD Pretorius, the winery’s new cellar master, explained the thinking.
“Warwick has built up 30 years of Cabernet Franc history to show the grape works on the property,” he told The Buyer at a lunch in central London. “It’s also a bit of a USP having 50+% of Cab Franc, for there aren’t many Cab Franc-dominated blends in the western Cape. It’s a challenging thing to get ripe as Cab Franc ripens almost a month earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon; a lot of things can go wrong in terms of tannin ripeness, flavour progression etc. You need a kind of warm, cool site to do that. If you don’t get the warmth and the coolness, you get over-ripe or under-ripe. Not many places can do that, so if you can manage that, you’re going to make interesting and unique wine. We feel that is something that Warwick can do on a continuous basis.”
Four other vintages of Trilogy were tasted at the lunch – 2012, 2008, 2005 and 1997. All showed well with the 2008 and 2012 available at £30 RRP from Christopher Keiller Fine Wine Services and Amazon/Hard to Find Wines respectively. But the 2016, currently available from the Wine Society as part of a half-case ‘en primeur’ offer for £88, looks terrific value.
Seductive red fruit, vibrant acidity and beautifully-integrated powdery tannins form its backbone, with freshness and a very long finish a feature. As Greg Sherwood, the South African MW in charge of South Kensington merchant Handford Wines put it, “it has the weightless, airy concentration, yet at the same time intensity, that you get on very expensive fine wine from California.” It absorbs 60% new oak effortlessly.
The 1997 showed how well Trilogy can age, coming from what was the longest, coollest vintage since the 1920s. Remarkably, the Cabernet Sauvignon was not harvested till late May, a good two months later than is now the case. “Incredible phenolics, aromatics and acidity” purred Sherwood, adding it had 10-20 years still to go. Pretorious, who has only recently joined Warwick from Steenberg, picked out the 2008 as the most complete wine in his view.
These are certainly exciting times for Warwick after their acquisition of neighbouring Stellenbosch winery Uitkyk in July last year. From having 127 hectares under vine, they will ultimately have as much as 300 hectares, with all of Uitkyk’s vines having been, or about to be, grubbed up for replanting with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Chardonnay. The idea behind that is to try to eradicate leafroll virus, a longstanding issue in the western Cape, as well as increase the density of planting from 2,800 vines per hectare to between 3,800 and 4,500, depending on varietal.